Sunday, August 26, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- August 26th edition

August 26, 2003: Scenes from Khalis as hundreds of troops from the 4th Infantry Division raid houses in search of insurgents.

August 26, 2002:

Bush Aides Say Iraq War Needs No Hill Vote

Lawyers for President Bush have concluded he can launch an attack on Iraq without new approval from Congress, in part because they say that permission remains in force from the 1991 resolution giving Bush's father authority to wage war in the Persian Gulf, according to administration officials.

At the same time, some administration officials are arguing internally that the president should seek lawmakers' backing anyway to build public support and to avoid souring congressional relations. If Bush took that course, he still would be likely to assert that congressional consent was not legally necessary, the officials said.

Whatever the White House decides about its obligations under the War Powers Resolution of 1973, some House and Senate leaders appear determined to push resolutions of support for ousting Iraqi President Saddam Hussein when Congress returns after Labor Day because they consider the issue too grave for Congress to be sidestepped. Administration officials say privately that military strikes against Hussein's regime are virtually inevitable, although all the specifics have not been decided and action is not imminent.

Bush has said repeatedly he will consult lawmakers before deciding how to proceed but has pointedly stopped short of saying he will request their approval. The difference between getting legislators' opinions, as opposed to their permission, could lead to a showdown this fall between Congress and the White House.

"We don't want to be in the legal position of asking Congress to authorize the use of force when the president already has that full authority," said a senior administration official involved in setting the strategy. "We don't want, in getting a resolution, to have conceded that one was constitutionally necessary."

Read the rest at the Washington Post

Cheney urges action on Iraq

The White House, stung by critics who urge a go-slow approach to ousting Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, launched a forceful rebuttal Monday.
Vice President Cheney said in a somber speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Nashville that a strike against Iraq would be advisable sooner rather than later.

"As President Bush has said, time is not on our side," Cheney said. "Deliverable weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terror network, or a murderous dictator, or the two working together, constitutes as grave a threat as can be imagined. The risks of inaction are far greater than the risk of action."

Read the rest at USA Today

August 26, 2003:

Abandoned weaponry litters Iraq

Iraqi officials and former army officers say the United States, in its haste to dismantle Saddam Hussein's rule, has left thousands of pounds of munitions unguarded and accessible to looters and criminals.

"When the Americans came into Iraq, they didn't secure the military bases," said former Iraqi Army Brig. Gen. Mohammad Abdullah Nour. "The munitions were everywhere, even on the sidewalks. Not just 500-pound bombs, but 2-ton or 5- ton bombs or 10-ton bombs. The Iraqi army was scattered all over Iraq, and when they abandoned their posts, they left the weapons there."

The truck bombing of the U.N. compound in Baghdad on Tuesday has prompted harsh Iraqi criticism of the U.S. and British security operations.

Investigators say the bomb, which killed at least 23 people, including the United Nations' Iraq point man, Sergio Vieira de Mello, was built of Soviet- era munitions -- the mainstay of the Iraqi arsenal -- possibly those abandoned and left unguarded following the collapse of Hussein's government. Hundreds of pounds of mortar and artillery shells were wrapped around a 500-pound bomb.

While U.S. forces hunted for weapons of mass destruction, Iraqis say, criminals made off with bombs, explosives and sophisticated weapons like rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

"Anyone with any military experience could have taken these munitions and made them into bombs," Nour said. "Leaving them there was a major mistake by the American Army."

U.S. Army Col. Guy Shields said that American soldiers had been continually disposing of old Iraqi munitions but that the task sometimes seemed never- ending.

Hussein amassed a substantial arsenal before the first Persian Gulf war. According to a report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, Iraq purchased $11 billion in weapons annually from 1988 to 1991, when U.N. sanctions effectively cut off the supply of arms to the country.

"Hussein spent so much money and bought so much munitions that they're everywhere," Shields said. "We try to get rid of them, but every day we find more and more."

On Sunday, U.S. troops uncovered a huge arms cache near Humarrabi, 60 miles south of Baghdad, containing 300 artillery fuses and 70 bags of gunpowder, along with 400 cases of anti-aircraft ammunition and 200 rocket-propelled grenade rounds, the military said.

Read the rest at the San Francisco Chronicle

U.S. deaths in Iraq surpass 'end of major combat' total

The number of U.S. service members who have died in Iraq since the end of the major phase of the war now surpasses the toll in the first phase of the conflict.

U.S. Central Command said a 3rd Corps Support Command soldier was killed Tuesday and two were wounded in an improvised explosive device attack on a military convoy near the town of Hamariyah.

The town is between Fallujah and Ar Ramadi.

The number of war dead after the major conflict was declared over May 1 by President George W. Bush is now at 139, surpassing the 138 U.S. service members to die during the first phase of warfare.

Read the rest at CNN

August 26, 2004:

Grieving father sets fire to military vehicle

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — A Florida man was severely burned yesterday after he ignited a U.S. Marine Corps van upon learning from the Marines that his son had died in Iraq, according to police.

Carlos Arredondo was distraught after hearing that his 20-year-old son, Alexander Arredondo, had died in combat in Najaf the previous night.

"It doesn't appear he was trying to hurt himself," Marine Capt. Patrick Kerr, medical officer for Marine Forces Reserve in New Orleans, said in a telephone interview. "He was trying to destroy the vehicle."

Carlos Arredondo, 44, was in serious condition, having suffered second-degree burns on his arms and legs, Hollywood Police Capt. Tony Rode said.

Alexander Arredondo's mother, Victoria Foley of Bangor, Maine, said her son grew up in Massachusetts with her and last saw his father at Christmas. This was Alexander's second tour of duty in Iraq, she said. Foley said the Marines who informed her of Alexander's death did not provide any information about how he died.

"He was in the thick of it; that's all I know," she said.

About 2:14 p.m., Marines went to inform Arredondo of his son's death. The Marines were there for about 20 or 30 minutes before Arredondo started the fire, Marine Maj. Scott Mack said.

Police said Arredondo got a blow torch, a propane tank and a gasoline can. He then broke out the driver's window, opened the door and began pouring gasoline throughout the vehicle, Kerr said. At some point, the van exploded.

Marines extinguished the fire on Arredondo. No Marines were injured, but the van was gutted.

Because of Department of Defense rules, Kerr said he was unable to talk about or identify the Marine who was killed. The military must wait 24 hours after a service member's next of kin is notified before releasing the name to the public.

Read the rest at the Seattle Times

August 26, 2005:

The US Reeling, Like Britain After the Boer War

If you want to know what London was like in 1905, come to Washington in 2005. Imperial gravitas and massive self-importance. That sense of being the center of the world, and of needing to know what happens in every corner of the world because you might be called on — or at least feel called upon — to intervene there. Hyperpower. Top dog. And yet, gnawing away beneath the surface, the nagging fear that your global supremacy is not half so secure as you would wish. As Joseph Chamberlain, the British colonial secretary, put it in 1902: “The weary Titan staggers under the too vast orb of his fate.”

The United States is now that weary Titan. In the British case, the angst was a result of the unexpectedly protracted, bloody and costly Boer war, in which a small group of foreign insurgents defied the mightiest military the world had seen; concern about the rising economic power of Germany and the United States; and a combination of imperial overstretch with socioeconomic problems at home. In the American case, it’s a result of the unexpectedly protracted, bloody and costly Iraq war, in which a small group of foreign insurgents defies the mightiest military the world has seen; concern about the rising economic power of China and India; and a combination of imperial overstretch with socioeconomic problems at home.

Iraq is America’s Boer war. Remember that after the British had declared the end of major combat operations in the summer of 1900, the Boers launched a campaign of guerrilla warfare that kept British troops on the run for another two years. The British won only by a ruthlessness of which, I’m glad to say, the democratic, squeamish and still basically anti-colonialist United States appears incapable. In the end, the British had 450,000 British and colonial troops there (compared with some 150,000 US troops in Iraq), and herded roughly a quarter of the Boer population into concentration camps, where many died.

In a recent CNN/Gallup poll, 54 percent of those asked said it was a mistake to send American troops into Iraq, and 57 percent said the Iraq war has made the US less safe from terrorism. The protest camp outside President Bush’s ranch in Crawford, which grew around the mother of a soldier who died in Iraq, exemplifies the pain. CNN last Sunday aired a documentary with top-level sources explaining in detail how the intelligence on Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction was distorted, abused, sexed up and, as the program was entitled, Dead Wrong. This will hardly be news for British or European readers, but the facts have not been so widely aired in the US. In another poll, the number of those who rated the president as “honest” fell below 50 percent for the first time. This week, he has again attempted to bolster support for his administration and his war. It doesn’t seem to be working.

A recent article in the New York Times plausibly estimated the prospective long-term cost of the Iraq War at more than $1 trillion. If Iraqi politicians do finally agree a draft constitution for their country, only the world’s greatest optimist can believe that it will turn Iraq into a peaceful, stable, democratic federal republic. Increasingly, the Islamic Republic of Iran quietly calls the shots in the Shiite south of Iraq. As the Washington joke goes: The war is over, and the Iranians won.

Meanwhile, oil prices of more than $60 a barrel put the price of petrol at American pumps up to nearly $3 a gallon for basic unleaded fuel. For someone from Europe this is still unbelievably cheap, but you should hear the shrieks of agony here. “Gas prices have changed my life,” moaned a distressed Californian commuter. If higher energy prices persist, they threaten not just a still vibrant economy but a whole way of life, symbolized by the Hummer (in both its civilian and military versions). Besides instability in the Middle East, the main force pushing up oil prices is the relentless growth of demand for energy from the emerging economic giants of Asia. The Chinese go around the world quietly signing big oil supply deals with any oil-producing country they can find, however nasty its politics, including Sudan and Iran. When a Chinese concern tried to buy a big California energy company, that was too much — American politicians screamed and effectively blocked the deal.

China and India are to the United States today what Germany and America were to Britain a hundred years ago. China is now the world’s second largest energy consumer, after the United States. It also has the world’s second largest foreign currency reserves, after Japan and followed by Taiwan, South Korea and India. In the foreign reserve stakes, the US comes only ninth, after Singapore and just before Malaysia. According to some economists, the US has an effective net savings rate — taking account of all public spending and debt — of zero. Nil. Zilch. This country does not save; it spends. The television channels are still full of a maddening barrage of endless commercials, enticing you to spend, spend, spend — and then to “consolidate” your accumulated debt in one easy package.

None of this is to suggest that the United States will decline and fall tomorrow. Far from it. After all, the British Empire lasted for another 40 years after 1905. In fact, it grew to its largest extent after 1918, before it signed its own death warrant by expending its blood and treasure to defeat Adolf Hitler (not the worst way to go). Similarly, one may anticipate that America’s informal empire — its network of military bases and semi-protectorates — will continue to grow. The United States, like Edwardian Britain, still has formidable resources of economic, technological and military power, cultural attractiveness and, not least, the will to stay on top. As one British music hall ditty at that time proclaimed:

And we mean to be top dog still. Bow-wow.

Yes, we mean to be top dog still.

You don’t have to go very far to hear that refrain in Washington today. The Bush administration’s national security strategy makes no bones about the goal of maintaining military supremacy. But whether the “American century” that began in 1945 will last until 2045, 2035 or only 2025, its end can already be glimpsed on the horizon.

If you are, by any chance, of that persuasion that would instinctively find this a cause for rejoicing, pause for a moment to consider two things: First, that major shifts of power between rising and falling great powers have usually been accompanied by major wars; and second, that the next top dog could be a lot worse.

So this is no time for schadenfreude. It’s a time for critical solidarity. A few far-sighted people in Washington are beginning to formulate a long-term American strategy of trying to create an international order that would protect the interests of liberal democracies even when American hyperpower has faded; and to encourage rising powers such as India and China to sign up to such an order. That is exactly what today’s weary Titan should be doing, and we should help him do it.

Read the rest at Arab News

August 26, 2006:

Rumsfeld Defends Extended Tours in Iraq

FAIRBANKS, Alaska -- In a lively but polite give-and-take, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld fielded questions Saturday from wives and other family members of Alaska-based soldiers whose combat tours in Iraq were abruptly extended just as they prepared to return home this month.

"It is something we don't want to do," Rumsfeld told several hundred family members who gathered in a gymnasium at nearby Ft. Wainwright, home of the 172nd Stryker Brigade. The unit's deployment to Iraq was extended by up to four months to bolster U.S. firepower in the Baghdad area.

"But in this case we had to," he added, referring to the decision made in late July to extend the 172nd.

Asked whether the Army was preparing another brigade to take over for the 172nd in case the intended improvements in Baghdad are not achieved by mid-December, Rumsfeld said he could make no promises.

"I wish I had a magic wand and the power to say yes. I don't," he said. "I will do everything in the world I can do to see that they are not extended beyond the 120 days."

Reporters, including five who traveled with Rumsfeld from Washington, D.C., were not permitted to cover his meeting with the family members, which lasted about an hour. But a wife who made a video tape of the event showed it to reporters afterward.

One wife asked Rumsfeld why the 172nd was doing house-to-house searches in Baghdad instead of the kinds of combat operations they are trained to perform. Rumsfeld disputed her assertion, saying that 95 percent of the house-clearing operations are being done by Iraqi troops.

In an interview during his flight to Fairbanks, Rumsfeld said he saw no reason for the soldiers or their families to be angry at him.

"I don't put it in that context," he said. "These people are all volunteers. They all signed up. They all are there doing what they're doing because they want to do it. They're proud of what they do. They do it very, very well."

Asked why reporters would not be permitted to cover his meeting with the family members, Rumsfeld at first replied, "I don't have any idea. I haven't addressed the subject." Later he said he makes it a practice to make all family meetings private.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

Service in Iraq: Just How Risky?

The consequences of Operation Iraqi Freedom for U.S. forces are being documented by the Defense Department with an exceptional degree of openness and transparency. Its daily and cumulative counts of deaths receive a great deal of publicity. But deaths alone don't indicate the risk for an individual. For this purpose, the number of deaths must be compared with the number of individuals exposed to the risk of death. The Defense Department has supplied us with appropriate data on exposure, and we take advantage of it to provide the first profile of military mortality in Iraq.

Between March 21, 2003, when the first military death was recorded in Iraq, and March 31, 2006, there were 2,321 deaths among American troops in Iraq. Seventy-nine percent were a result of action by hostile forces. Troops spent a total of 592,002 "person-years" in Iraq during this period. The ratio of deaths to person-years, .00392, or 3.92 deaths per 1,000 person-years, is the death rate of military personnel in Iraq...

The death rate of American troops in Vietnam was 5.6 times that observed in Iraq. Part of the reduction in the death rate is attributable to improvements in military medicine and such things as the use of body armor. These have reduced the ratio of deaths to wounds from 24 percent in Vietnam to 13 percent in Iraq. Some other factors to be considered:

Branch of service: Marines are paying the highest toll in Iraq. Their death rate is more than double that of the Army, 10 times higher than that of the Navy and 20 times higher than for the Air Force. In fact, those in the Navy and Air Force have substantially lower death rates than civilian men ages 20 to 34.

Among the Marines, there is in effect no difference in the mortality risks for members on active duty and those in the reserve. In the Army, on the other hand, reservists have 33 percent of the death rate of those in active service because they are not assigned to combat positions. Members of the Army National Guard are intermediate in assignments and in mortality.

Rank: In both the Army and the Marines, enlisted personnel have 40 percent higher mortality than officers. The excess mortality of enlisted soldiers is diminished by the high mortality of the lowest-ranking officers, lieutenants, who are typically the leaders of combat patrols. Lieutenants have the highest mortality of any rank in the Army, 19 percent higher than all Army troops combined. Marine Corps lieutenants have 11 percent higher mortality than all Marines. But the single highest-mortality group in any service consists of lance corporals in the Marines, whose death risk is 3.3 times that of all troops in Iraq.

Age, sex , race and ethnicity: In contrast to the civilian population, mortality rates decline precipitously with age. Troops ages 17 to 19 have a death risk 4.6 times that of those 50 and older. Differences in rank by age undoubtedly contribute to this pattern, and so do differences in branch of service. Sixty-five percent of Marine deployments to Iraq were of those age 24 or younger, compared with only 39 percent of Army deployments. Women are not assigned to combat specialties in Iraq, although they do see enemy fire; their death rate is 18 percent that of men.

Identifying racial and ethnic differences in mortality is not straightforward because the Defense Department uses a different classification system for deaths than for deployments. Nevertheless, all attempts we have made to reconcile the two systems reach the same conclusion: Hispanics have a death risk about 20 percent higher than non-Hispanics, and blacks have a death risk about 30 to 40 percent lower than that of non-blacks. That low death rate appears to result from an overrepresentation of blacks in low-risk categories: For example, 19 percent of blacks in Iraq are women, compared with 9 percent of non-blacks, while 7 percent of blacks in Iraq are Marines, compared with 13 percent of non-blacks.

Other casualties: The number of wounded in Iraq through March 31, 2006, was 7.5 times the number of dead; the rate at which wounds are incurred was one per 33 troops per year.

Read the rest at the Washington Post